Let's Help Workers With A Green Jobs Program

President Donald Trump is right about one thing: we need a jobs program. I worked for Rahm Emanuel's Greencorps Chicago Youth while a graduate student. Greencorps was a jobs program that offered education, mentoring and practical work experience. What we did at Greencorps was amazing. We taught young people from Chicago about environmental engineering, climate change, urban agriculture and sustainability. Our flagship program trained disadvantaged Chicagoans for green jobs. The youth program mirrored this effort by placing our students in internships in Chicago's emerging green economy.

What we were doing was admittedly small-scale but impactful. With the resources we now have to address climate change, we can train Americans to make money in what will be a worldwide clean energy infrastructure boom. It would be foolish not to do so. Not only would continued investment in energy advance basic science, but I think a scaled-up green jobs program could do wonders by putting marginalized people back to work, retraining others on the technology of the future and advancing a new wave of innovation. We could make America the world leader in the world economy's most profitable sector, energy, while enhancing our national energy security.

The United States currently has all the technology it needs to plan for and then transcend the twilight of the fossil fuel energy economy. Now innovators are advancing clean energy and pollution mitigation technology at a rapid pace. But we need to speed it up. According to McKinsey, "By 2040, (renewables') US market share could be 18 percent, up from 13 percent in 2013." When the world is expected to surpass 25 percent renewable sourcing in 2018, we are laggards.

Yet innovative scientists are currently making progress on one of the most difficult aspects of engineering a new energy economy, the storage problem. McKinsey reports, "The European Union is testing a project in Ireland in which a motorized flywheel can harness surplus energy from the grid, store it in turbines, and then release it on demand. The US Department of Energy's famous innovation lab, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, is funding a dozen storage-related projects. It is not far-fetched to believe these efforts will discover a variety of cost-effective solutions. The demand for time-shifted energy storage, according to McKinsey, could grow ten times by 2050; that kind of potential attracts innovation."

In addition to directing more research dollars toward solving these hard problems, the incoming administration can go big on a green jobs program for everyday workers. We need to jump-start clean energy by enacting more feed-in tariffs, renewable portfolios and job training programs. All of these efforts will produce jobs quickly, and the jobs will last. Playing it safe on a green jobs effort is neither safe ecologically nor smart economically and will look bad in hindsight.

In an article for Newsweek a few years ago, Bill Clinton wrote about the transformational nature of technology. He wrote, "When I was president, the economy benefited because information technology penetrated every aspect of American life. More than one-quarter of our job growth and one-third of our income growth came from that. Now the obvious candidate for that role today is changing the way we produce and use energy." Think Progress reported on some of Clinton's tangible, shovel-ready ideas: "Building retrofits have huge job-creating potential; a recent report suggests 'retrofitting 40% of the US building stock will create over 600,000 jobs by 2020.' This estimate is very similar to that of President Clinton (retrofitting the entire building stock will create 1,000,000 jobs)."

Providing a robust jobs program could stimulate many millions more jobs in an energy sector that could add trillions of dollars of profit with clean tech. As Robert Browning wrote: "Man must pass from old to new, From what once seemed good, to what now Proves best; How could man have progression otherwise?"